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Restaurant at centre of Maple Ridge homeless shelter opposition closes its doors

Owner Kenny Shih closes The Pantry after struggling for months to find and retain staff.
In March

The restaurant that was at the heart of the protest against converting the Quality Inn into a homeless shelter earlier this year has now closed.

On Friday morning, The Pantry restaurant was darkened inside, doors locked and lights out. It is not known if the closure is permanent or for how long.

Last spring, some of the restaurant staff collected a petition against the Quality Inn as a location for a shelter.

An online petition collected 1,535 supporters and a paper petition was also circulated. That petition could still be seen at the reception desk in the closed restaurant, reading "Sign Petition Here."

Long-time customers were still showing up for a Friday morning meal, only to see it closed.

"It's my favourite restaurant," said one woman.

"We've been coming here for years," said her partner, driving a vehicle with veteran's plates.

Over the course of just a few minutes, vehicles continued to pull into the parking lot on Lougheed Highway and 217th Street, with motorists peering into the darkened interior before driving off again.

Inside, the chairs were neatly pushed into the tables and the mustard and ketchup bottles sorted orderly against the wall, making it look like the restaurant could open at a moment's notice.

Restaurant owner Kenny Shih said he closed the doors because he couldn't find enough help.

"We are short of staff, that's the first issue."

Getting people to work in the kitchen, such as washing dishes, was particularly challenging.

"The last three months we could not find anybody."

Shih, to fill the gap, ended up working long hours as dishwasher, cook and at the front counter, and last month started closing the restaurant on Tuesdays to make up for the labour shortages.

But that, in turn, hurt cash flow.

He said it's difficult to find kitchen workers in Maple Ridge, and even if found most only work for a few weeks, then quit.

Dishwashers and servers make a minimum wage of $10.85 an hour, while cooks make a bit more.

He said the ongoing prospect of a homeless shelter opening nearby, if not at the Quality Inn, then a few blocks farther west, was also a worry.

"Those kinds of issues have always hurt our business. So, for me, I said, 'That's it.' "

Shih has run the restaurant for 14 years and has built up a loyal clientele. About 20 people worked at the restaurant, which opened in 1982 or 1983.

There's a possibility that another operator could take over the restaurant franchise.

The Quality Inn is being rebranded and changing its name to the Econo Lodge next week, though it remains part of the same chain.

B.C. Housing eventually abandoned the Quality Inn as a shelter location. A new location for a housing complex and homeless shelter was then announced – a just a few blocks down the road at 21375 Lougheed Hwy.

That location, too, has attracted opposition, with the City of Maple Ridge now handing the public consultation process over to the two Liberal MLAs, Doug Bing and Marc Dalton, following Premier Christy Clark's statement that the MLAs would have the final say in approving a new shelter.